I have to admit this – American sauces are indeed a nightmare to get right.
With traditional Italian, French, or even English cooking, it is so easy to find a reliable source you can use for your recipe. That lets you quickly compare the dish you have made with an “ideal” version and make all the appropriate changes.
When you ask your friend for advice or look online, you can typically get a pretty definitive answer immediately. If you need to thicken a sauce, there will be a not in the recipe which tells you exactly how to do that.
You have probably run into this problem if you ever tried to recreate your favorite barbecue or ranch sauce. Each state has its regional variations on this sauce, and each city within that state might vary the recipe even further. What might be hailed as “correct” in some parts of the country would be rejected based on texture alone in others without so much as a whiff.
I can tell you – spaghetti sauce is in a very similar boat. This quintessential American sauce has very little to do with its original Italian marinara roots. It is a customized recipe that varies quite a bit depending on whose kitchen you are in.
But enough with the theories – I have to share quite an exciting story with you.
How To Thicken Spaghetti Sauce
It was one of those long summer days; my hubby was on the job, and I decided to surprise him by making his favorite spaghetti. I did my best, but unfortunately, the sauce was not thick enough!
I chose not to give up, so I started to research the best option. In the end, it turned out that the type of sauce is the detriment factor – you can’t use “one method to thicken them all.”
Although, with the perfect method (and variations), the sauce can turn just the way you wanted it to be. Guess what happened with the meal I prepared – yup, my husband was impressed!
Here’s how I got it perfectly thick & creamy, so it formed a perfect combination with the spaghetti.
Let’s go step by step!
What makes my spaghetti sauce watery?
Do you drain your pasta well enough? If you don’t you must know this is the most common mistake that results in watery spaghetti sauce. The draining of the pasta should last until it stops steaming. The main reason for that is the condensation of the steam from freshly cooked pasta. This steam turns into water when you add the sauce.
How to get the sauce to thicken?
In general, there are two ways to thicken every sauce – reduce liquid or add starch.
These two actions cover every thickening technique you can think of. You can reduce the liquid by merely adding less, to begin with, boiling off liquid overtime or adding thicker liquid (for instance, milk instead of water). Starches include flour, cornstarch, pasta water, breadcrumbs, or even mashed potatoes.
Most of the time, you will do these actions somewhat in tandem. You typically want to cook any starches you add a little bit to reduce their starchy flavors. It Is also more comfortable to dissolve powders in a hot liquid, and because of this, you will probably boil off a little bit of liquid as you incorporate your starch.
When you are trying to thicken up spaghetti sauce, there is also one additional option. Tomato paste is a reasonably thick tomato-based flavor additive, which helps to make your sauce thicker. That is because it is already basically thick tomato sauce.
When you add it to your spaghetti sauce, you are increasing the number of tomato solids without increasing the amount of liquid as much, therefore thickening the sauce.
Related Read: 5 Quick And Easy Ways To Thicken Chili
How to thicken tomato sauce without tomato paste?
Spaghetti sauce is not hugely different from any other sauce with regards to basic thickening principles. So I’ll give you some specific techniques which you can use to thicken it without resorting to tomato paste.
1. Reserve Pasta Water so You Can Use it for Sauce
- The water that you have cooked pasta in has lots of starches floating, making it a powerful thickening agent! You don’t necessarily want to add it to the sauce, which is already too thin. Instead, use a bit of pasta water as the water you use in the recipe.
2. Add Cornstarch
- Cornstarch is pretty neutral in flavor and very easy to add to the sauce which has already been made. You don’t need to mix it with anything or to make a roux.
- Instead, stir in a small amount of cornstarch and let it cook for a minute or two, and you will often see results with a shockingly small amount of cornstarch.
3. Add Mashed Potatoes
- This one sounds a bit crazy, but trust me – it works perfectly! Just like four cornstarch and pasta, potatoes are loaded with starch. If you have got a cooked potato lying around, try mashing it and blending it into your sauce. You will get a bit of unique flavor, and you will thicken your sauce up quite a bit.
4. Make a Roux
- A roux is a combination of fat that has been cooked for a little bit and flour. While it takes some effort to mix flour and butter and cook them until it stops tasting flour-ey, making a roux is probably one of the most common ways an experienced chef will thicken pizza sauce. You can do that very quickly with a bit of practice!
Check Out: Learn How To Choose Potato Masher
5. Thicken Up and Reduce Your Sauce Through Cooking
- Regardless of what other techniques you use to thicken spaghetti sauce, you’ll probably want to use this one. If you let your sauce simmer over low heat for several minutes, that will cause lots of water to evaporate through the boiling process.
- You will also help blend the spices and herbs in the sauce, activate any starches you have added, and cook off any starchy flavors. You don’t have to go crazy with cook times, as 20 minutes is usually plenty.
Reducing Sauce Like a Pro
There is a simple trick that can make the reduction process go by much more quickly! 🙂
Instead of waiting for a long time for your sauce to reduce or turning the heat up, try using a wider pot or even a pan. Your sauce’s surface area has a lot to do with how fast it will thicken up and reduce when you leave it at a simmer.
Ideally, you would use a saucier pan or another fancy pan with sloped sides, but it’s okay to use a larger saute pan, stockpot, or even a pan. As long as you increase the sauce’s surface area, the time it takes to reduce it will go down.
See Also: Our guide for choosing a stockpot.
Does spaghetti sauce need to be thick?
The traditional marinara sauce is thin. The meaty and thick spaghetti sauce you are probably familiar with is very much a modern American invention.
If you prefer your sauce this way, there is indeed nothing wrong with adding lots of hearty ingredients to your spaghetti sauce and thickening things up.
The best way to thicken spaghetti sauce
Ok, we have come to the point where I have to share my secret with you – maybe you will feel a bit disappointed because the simple combination of all of the techniques above works wonders to thicken your spaghetti!
- First of all, add a tiny amount of starch like a roux or cornstarch.
- After that, add a little bit of tomato paste to improve the flavor and thicken things up more.
- Finally, stir and simmer your sauce for at least ten minutes.
I’m sure this will impress your guests as it will give you a very thick spaghetti sauce!
If that doesn’t work correctly, you can just repeat the steps! But be sure to taste your sauce as you go. While some starches are nearly flavorless in small quantities, you will be able to taste them if you add enough to your sauce.
However, if you find yourself going overboard, you may want to add more garlic, spices, or even tomatoes to help reset the balance.
Bon appetit! 😉